The world-famous Cinque Terre is really a small paradise. No wonder they have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 and attract thousands of visitors every year. Cinque Terre means five countries, which means the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Villages that are more colorful and picturesque than the other, nestled on the steep coast.

In order to enjoy these unique places to the fullest, we suggest you prepare your trip a bit. Our mini-guide to the Cinque Terre can be a guide for you with the most important information so that you can then make the exploration of the 5 villages an unforgettable experience. 

What is there to see in the Cinque Terre? Which villages in the Cinque Terre should I visit?

Which village should I start with? What is the best way to get there? How much time do I need to discover the five villages? Where should I stay overnight?

These and maybe more, are questions you might ask yourself before your trip to Cinque Terre. We will try to answer them all so you can start your exploration well prepared. 

The Five Villages

The question of whether you should visit all the villages of the Cinque Terre can be answered with a resounding yes. All of them are special in their own way and are worth discovering. The order in which they are visited is not really important but rather depends on the way you travel, by train, boat, on foot, etc. Also if you want to start with the most beautiful villages (for us Vernazza and Manarola) or finish with the sunset is a personal decision. Here we present the five villages in order from north to south, as we traveled by train from Levanto through the Cinque Terre.

Monterosso del Mar, The Village by the Sea

Monterosso del Mar is completely different from the other 4 villages. We are quite honest, for us the one that impressed us the least. It seems less picturesque than the others because it is rather flat and not so spectacularly stuck to the steep cliffs. But it has a real beach and is the oldest and largest village of the Cinque Terre. If you want to stay in the Cinque Terre, here you will find the most options and it is also a little cheaper than in the others. Monterosso del Mar is the ideal starting point to explore the rest of the Cinque Terre.

Vernazza, The Postcard Village

Vernazza is probably one of the most photographed subjects of the Cinque Terre and rightly so. It is also really uniquely picturesque. Especially when viewed from a slightly elevated position, the scenery is unique and beautiful. Whoever came up with the idea of building a village on this rocky spur jutting out into the sea and in the adjacent narrow, steep bay must have had a flair for dramatic scenery.

Corniglia, The Elevated One

The peculiarity of Corniglia is that it is the only one not located directly on the sea, but somewhat elevated on the cliffs. This is also the reason why it is the least visited village. Whether you arrive by boat or by train, you have to climb a long flight of stairs to get to the village. From the train station, there is a shuttle bus, but you can imagine how quickly it is crowded when a train full of tourists arrives. As the smallest of the five villages, a few hours are enough to explore the alleys and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views. 

Manarola, The Jewel of Cinque Terre

If we had to choose whether Vernazza or Manarola is our favorite, we couldn’t say. Both are simply beautiful and have a beguiling charm. We recommend to arrive as early as possible, so you have the chance to enjoy this unique village before the big tourist crowds. From the headland opposite the village you have a breathtaking view of the village and the small harbor.

Riomaggiore, The Icon

Interestingly, in all five villages there is an iconic viewpoint from which the villages are always depicted on postcards and pictures. In Riomaggiore this is found at the harbor below. From there, it seems as if the colorful houses are tightly intertwined with the small valley that extends from the bay into the steep hills. Between Riomaggiore and Manarolo would also run the famous hiking trail Via dell’Amore. Unfortunately, however, this has been impassable for several years due to landslides and no one seems to have found the time to repair it yet. 

How Much Time Should I Allow For a Visit to the Cinque Terre?

Of course, it is impossible to say the exact time, because it depends on individual interests and pace. Not least on the way, you visit the villages. Whether by train, boat or some parts even hiking. 

Of course, it is possible to visit all five villages in one day. With the train, you get relatively fast. However, you will only see the obvious tourist hotspots. 

From our point of view, it is a good idea to plan for about 3 days. So you have enough time per day to visit 2 villages properly. That means to soak up the atmosphere a bit. Bathing, eating ice cream, watching the action from a bench, and last but not least exploring the small alleys off the main roads.

What Is the Best Way to Visit the Villages of the Cinque Terre?

Visit the Cinque Terre by train

The train is certainly the easiest and fastest way to get to the villages of Cinque Terre. This runs along the coast, mostly in tunnels, and has a station in each village. The trip between the first and the last takes just 20 minutes. The ride costs 4 € no matter which village you want to reach. Tickets are available at ticket machines or ticket offices. In no case should you forget to stamp the ticket, the inspectors can be very persistent. There is also a Cinque Terre Card which costs €16 for one day and includes unlimited train rides (more details on the Cinque Terre Card in the separate infobox). Cinque Terre is on the regional train line between Genoa and La Spezia. This means that even if you stay overnight in La Spezia, Levanto, or Sestri Levante, the train is without a doubt the easiest way to reach the five villages. The line runs from 5 am to midnight approximately every 30 minutes. Of course, you have to expect some delays, after all, you are in Italy. You should just see this as a chance to soak up a little more of the Dolce Vita. 

The Cinque Terre Card

The Cinque Terre Card is a pass that provides free access to some attractions, museums, Wi-Fi, and hiking trails. There is the standard card for 7.50 € / day, which does not include train rides or a Cinque Terre Card + train for 16 € / day. This includes unlimited rides between Levanto and La Spezia.

Whether it is worth it, everyone must calculate for themselves. If you have in mind to travel a lot by train, it pays off relatively quickly. Because each trip between 2 villages costs 4 €. But if you also take the boat or hike more (about 3 euros per tourist trail) you probably get away a little cheaper without. 

  • 10 € / day: for children under 12 years.
  • 42 € / day: Family pass for 2 adults and 2 children under 12 years.
  • 41 €: For a 3-day ticket adults

Visiting the five villages of the Cinque Terre on foot

If you like to hike and have enough time, you should not miss the opportunity to do some parts on foot. There is a whole network of trails that cross the unique landscape and natural park of the Cinque Terre. You will walk along dry stone walls, under olive trees, through vineyards and you will always have fantastic views. The blue trails which are chargeable would actually connect Monterosso al Mar with Riomaggiore. Would, because the sections along the coast between Corniglia and Manarola, and to Riomaggiore are not passable for several years due to landslides. This is the status 2021, whether and when these are redeveloped is open. It is best to find out on the spot how the current situation is. 

There is also a hiking route that leads further up over the villages, these are more strenuous but open. You should not forget good walking shoes and enough water. In nice weather, it can get really hot. In addition, the distances do not seem to be too great, but often you have to climb quite a lot of altitude. 

Here is a brief list of the routes and hiking times:

  • Levanto → Monterosso via la punta mesco: 7 km / about 3 hrs as a quiet hike/medium difficulty. There are many viewpoints to enjoy the small bays.
  • Monterosso → Vernazza: 4 km / about 2 hrs. as a quiet walk / easy difficulty.
  • Vernazza → Corniglia: 4 km / approx. 2 hrs. as an easy walk / easy difficulty level
  • Corniglia → Manarola: closed as of 2021 / 3 km / approx. 1.5 hrs. walk / easy difficulty level
  • Manarola → Riomaggiore (Via dell’Amore): closed as of 2021 / 1 km / about 1 hr. easy walk / very easy can also be done with a stroller, for example.

Visit the Cinque Terre by boat

Going by boat to the villages is especially interesting because it gives you a different perspective on them, which is not possible otherwise. The boat tours are operated by the „Consorzio Marittimo Turistico 5 Terre-Golfo dei Poeti“. The main ports for a trip to the villages, are Levanto, Portovenere, Lerici and La Spezia. Prices vary depending on the time period, but in high season, expect to pay around €20 for a one-way trip or €30 for a round trip. 

A bit of a drawback is that the boats are extremely crowded in the high season.

Going to the Cinque Terre by car

We strongly advise against visiting the five villages by car, i.e. driving through the Cinque Terre. The roads are winding, partly narrow and the parking fees extremely high. 

However, if you fly to Genoa or Pisa by plane, it is definitely an option to drive to the Cinque Terre with a rental car. In that case, we advise you to park the car in Levanto or La Spezia and take the train or boat from there to the villages. 

The Best Time to Visit The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is wonderful, unique, and world-famous. Attributes that make many travelers from all over the world want to see these places with their own eyes. The main tourist season is from June to September. In these months you simply have to expect crowds of people. If you can, it is worth visiting Cinque Terre earlier or later. In the off-season, there is simply the chance that not everything is open or the weather is not optimal. 

If you can’t avoid traveling in the high season, there are still a few tricks you can use to escape the crowds. 

Get up early. If you get up with the first light of day, you will have the villages and countryside practically to yourself for a few hours. Most visitors arrive between 9 and 10 am. Other advantages of being up early are that the temperatures are more pleasant for hiking and you get hungry earlier. This means you can swim against the tide a bit and go to a restaurant to eat already at 11 o’clock and avoid long waiting times.

Another tip is to use the side streets more. The streams of tourists are usually limited to the main street, in the smaller alleys are much fewer people. Or one climbs further up into the hills. As soon as it gets strenuous, you can quickly escape most of the tourists. It is worthwhile to explore the small paths around the villages a bit. Here you walk under olive trees past cacti and always enjoy wonderful views.

Where to Stay When Visiting Cinque Terre

In the five villages themselves, you will find mainly bed & breakfasts as accommodations. The price, of course, depends mainly on the location and the particular village. However, in the high season, you have to reckon with proud prices. Another thing to consider, especially when choosing your luggage, is that the way to the accommodation often leads over steep alleys and stairs. Inform yourself in advance about the distance from the train station to your accommodation. 

Accommodation in Levanto or La Spezia, we also find an excellent solution. The prices there are usually a little cheaper and thanks to the good train connection you can be in the Cinque Terre in no time. 

A small secret tip (although in 2021 is probably no tip more really secret=)) is Portovenere. Located at the very end of the Cinque Terre at the entrance to the Gulf of La Spezia, it could also be called the sixth village of the Cinque Terre. Everything characteristic is also present here. Colorful old fishermen’s houses, steep narrow streets, and a spectacular landscape. From here you can walk to the Cinque Terre or use the boat connection. There is no direct train, but you have to take a bus to La Spezia. In return, the place is spared from the roughest tourist crowds. 

Practical Info

– In the villages, there are drinking fountains, ideal for filling up your water bottles!

– In the villages, there are ATMs to withdraw money.

– Price for an ice cream cone with 2 scoops is about 3€.

– A glass of white wine 4 – 6 €.

– Pizza about 6 – 8 €.